NY judge backs Occupy Wall Street eviction

A New York judge backed the authorities’ decision to ban tents in a Manhattan park where a two-month old protest camp was cleared out earlier, after a pre-dawn raid on the Occupy Wall Street camp.

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Protesters faced off with police after being kicked out of their tent camp in Zuccotti Park, as they sought to re-establish a base to continue their anti-capitalist protests.

The ruling by Judge Michael Stallman rejected an earlier court motion that put a temporary stay on the city’s decision to ban Occupy Wall Street protesters from returning to Zuccotti Park with tents and other camping gear.

The “petitioner’s application for a temporary restraining order is denied,” the judge wrote.

The ruling came the same day as riot police ejected hundreds of protesters from the square where they had maintained an elaborate campground since September 17.

City Mayor Michael Bloomberg said that protesters would be free to return to the private park at any time of day, but would not be allowed to sleep there, as stipulated in rules set by the owners.

Addressing a key issue, Stallman ruled that the owners of the park and the authorities were not denying protesters their constitutional right to freedom of speech by banning them from camping there.

“The movants have not demonstrated that they have a First Amendment right to remain in Zuccotti Park, along with their tents, structures, generators, and other installations to the exclusion of the owner’s reasonable rights and duties to maintain Zuccotti Park, or to the rights to public access of others who might wish to use the space safely,” Stallman wrote.

At a morning news conference, Mayor Michael Bloomberg said the evacuation was conducted in the middle of the night “to reduce the risk of confrontation in the park, and to minimise disruption to the surrounding neighbourhood”.

200 PROTESTERS ARRESTED

Hundreds of police officers surrounded the park in riot gear, holding plastic shields and batons which in some cases were used on protesters.

Police flooded the park with klieg lights and used bull horns to announce that everyone had to leave.

About 200 people were arrested, including some who chained themselves together. Others chanted or shouted angrily at police and vowed to march in protest.

Protesters in New York fought back the threat of a similar sweep weeks ago, but momentum against the camps appears to be growing as authorities across the US grow impatient with the self-proclaimed leaderless movement and its lack of a focused demand.

Bloomberg said the city knew about the court order on Tuesday but had not seen it and would go to court to fight it.

“From the beginning, I have said that the city had two principal goals: guaranteeing public health and safety, and guaranteeing the protesters’ First Amendment rights” to free speech, he said in a statement. “But when those two goals clash, the health and safety of the public and our first responders must be the priority.”

By mid morning, the park was power-washed clean by sanitation workers. Police in riot gear ringed the public space, waiting for orders to reopen it.

The city told protesters they could come back after the cleaning, but under new tougher rules, including no tents, sleeping bags or tarps, which would effectively put an end to the encampment if enforced.

Concerns about health and safety issues at Occupy Wall Street camps around the US have intensified, and protesters have been ordered to take down their shelters, adhere to curfews and relocate so that parks can be cleaned.

Police have made similar sweeps and arrests in recent days in Oakland, California and Portland, Oregon.

And London authorities announced on Tuesday they would resume legal action to clear a protest camp outside St Paul’s Cathedral.

Costa Concordia salvage work to begin

Salvage work is expected to begin on the Costa Concordia as the owner looks at pumping oil from the stricken ship off the Italian coast to avert an environmental disaster.

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The chief executive of Carnival Corporation has expressed sadness over the death of five additional passengers.

“We are deeply saddened by the reports of additional deaths following the grounding of the Costa Concordia,” chief executive Micky Arison said in a statement on Tuesday.

“On behalf of the entire Carnival Corporation & PLC team, I offer our heartfelt condolences to all of those families affected by this tragedy.”

The Costa Concordia ran aground late on Friday off the tiny Tuscan island of Giglio, with the death toll now at 11 and 24 people missing.

REMOVAL OF FUEL ‘A PRIORITY’

A Dutch shipwreck salvage firm said it would take its engineers and divers two to four weeks to extract the 1.8 million litres of fuel aboard the ship.

The safe removal of the fuel has become a priority second only to finding the missing, as the wreckage site lies in a maritime sanctuary for dolphins, porpoises and whales.

Preliminary phases of the fuel extraction could begin as early as Wednesday if approved by Italian officials, the company said.

Mediterranean waters in the area were relatively calm on Tuesday with waves just 30-centimetres high, but they were expected to reach nearly 1.8 metres on Wednesday, according to meteorological forecasts.

NO LEAKAGE

Smit, based in Rotterdam, Netherlands, said no fuel had leaked and the ship’s tanks appeared intact. While there is a risk the ship could shift in larger waves, it has so far been relatively stable perched on top of rocks near Giglio’s port.

Smit’s operations manager, Kees van Essen, said the company was confident the fuel could safely be extracted using pumps and valves to vacuum the oil out to waiting tanks.

“But there are always environmental risks in these types of operations,” he told reporters.

The company said any discussion about the fate of the ship – whether it is removed in one piece or broken up – would be decided by Costa Crociere and its insurance companies.

SHARES PLUNGED

Shares of the company, which is the parent of cruise operator Costa, fell 14 per cent to $US29.60 in New York on Tuesday, the first day of trading since the ship ran aground off the coast of Italy over the weekend. Markets had been closed on Monday for the Martin Luther King Jr holiday.

Meanwhile, environment group WWF has called for new rules aimed at avoiding a repeat of the tragedy, which has taken place in a sanctuary for whales and dolphins.

Italian Environment Minister Corrado Clini said no fuel had been seen flowing into the sea from the wreck, but added that it was a danger to the environment and that fuel must be quickly pumped off.

Fury over Tamimi tear gas death

Mustafa Abdelrazek al-Tamimi’s body was taken from the city of Ramallah in a funeral procession to the central Manara Square before being driven by ambulance to his home village of Nabi Saleh.

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Tamimi was critically wounded in the village on Friday by an Israeli tear gas canister that hit him in the head after being fired at close range. He was evacuated to an Israeli hospital but died the next day of his wounds.

In Nabi Saleh, around 2,000 people gathered to receive the 28-year-old’s body, which was draped with the Palestinian flag, his head covered with the black-and-white checkered keffiyeh scarf.

The crowd waved Palestinian flags and the yellow flag of the Fatah movement of Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas, many weeping and others chanting angrily.

“Our response will come tonight,” some mourners shouted, warning that “no one will stop us.”

Palestinian lawmaker Walid Assaf, head of the Palestinian Legislative Council’s committee against Jewish settlements, told mourners that peaceful protests should continue despite the incident.

“They want to turn our unarmed struggle into an armed struggle,” he said. “But this will not change our policy of peaceful struggle against settlements and against the occupation.”

Tamimi’s body was taken into his mother’s house, where weeping relatives surrounded him for a final goodbye before his burial at the village cemetery.

After his burial, clashes broke out as a hundreds of mourners marched towards Israeli soldiers standing by near the funeral, some of them throwing stones at the troops, who responded with clouds of tear gas.

Tamimi was hit by a canister during a weekly Friday protest against the nearby settlement of Halamish, which activists say sits on stolen village land and has blocked their access to the village spring.

A photograph distributed by activists purportedly showing Tamimi seconds before he was hit shows a tear gas canister flying towards him, apparently having been shot from the back of a military vehicle just metres (yards) away.

Tamimi was flown by helicopter to an Israeli hospital near Tel Aviv after the incident.

“He was shot from close range, around 20 metres (yards), with a tear gas projectile that hit him in the eye,” said Jonathan Pollak, a veteran Israeli activist who was at the demonstration.

Pollak said three other people sustained head injuries during the same demonstration.

A spokeswoman for the Israeli military told AFP on Friday that around 100 Palestinians had taken part in an “illegal demonstration, during which they hurled rocks at security forces, who responded with riot dispersal means.”

She said the army provided initial medical care to Tamimi and evacuated him to hospital, but could not provide further details on the incident, which she said was being investigated.

The Israeli rights group B’tselem says Tamimi was the 20th person to be killed at similar West Bank demonstrations over the past eight years. He was the first person to be killed in Nabi Saleh demonstrations in two years.

B’tselem spokeswoman Sarit Michaeli said the group was calling for a full military probe into who shot the fatal round, who ordered the shooting and the practice of firing tear gas canisters directly at protesters.

“The most serious issue is that the military is regularly firing tear gas canisters directly at Palestinian demonstrators risking their death, contrary to their orders,” she told AFP.

Shawan Jabarin, head of Palestinian rights group Al-Haq, condemned Tamimi’s death as the result of Israeli practices “that violently deny the freedom of expression and assembly by any means necessary.”

Pakistan’s president suffers ‘minor heart attack’

Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari suffered a minor heart attack and has undergone an operation in Dubai, but is expected to return to Islamabad shortly, a minister told AFP.

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Zardari’s admittance to hospital abroad came with the unpopular 56-year-old battling a major scandal at home over alleged attempts by a close aide to seek American help to limit the power of Pakistan’s military.

Mustafa Khokhar, minister in charge of human rights, said that contrary to media reports there was “no question of any resignation” by Zardari, who has already defied the expectations of many in remaining head of state since 2008.

“He had a minor heart attack on Tuesday. He flew to Dubai where he had an angioplasty. He’s in good health now. He will come back tomorrow. There’s no question of any resignation,” Khokhar told AFP on Wednesday.

State media said Zardari left for Dubai on Tuesday, accompanied by his physicians and personal staff, for routine tests linked to a “previously diagnosed cardiovascular condition”.

Zardari took office after his Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) won general elections in February 2008, three months after his wife, former prime minister Benazir Bhutto was assassinated.

Although he has survived numerous crises and calls for his resignation, he has come under growing pressure over a memo allegedly written by close aide Husain Haqqani asking for American assistance in curbing the powerful military.

Haqqani was forced to resign as ambassador to Washington last month and Zardari said Sunday that he would soon address a joint session of parliament.

It was not clear if the health scare would delay that plan.

Presidential spokesman Farhatullah Babar told AFP that Zardari was in hospital for tests and a planned medical check up, but dismissed media reports that he may be forced to step down as “speculative, imaginary and untrue”.

The website of the US magazine Foreign Policy reported that Zardari had been considering his resignation over health fears and the “Memogate scandal”.

The article quoted an unnamed former US government official as saying Zardari was “incoherent” when he spoke to President Barack Obama by telephone over the weekend following NATO air strikes that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers.

The row centres on a memo sent in May to the US’ then Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen, seeking help over fears of a military coup following the US raid that killed Osama bin Laden.

Mansoor Ijaz, a Pakistani-American businessman, accused Haqqani of crafting the memo with Zardari’s support. Haqqani has denied involvement and investigators have yet to prove to what extent Zardari may have been involved.

The night raid by US Navy SEALS in a Pakistani garrison town on May 2 provoked outrage in Islamabad and humiliated the military, which was not informed of the operation beforehand.

Relations between the military and Zardari are understood to be tense. Haqqani’s departure was seen as forced by the army and the political pressure on Zardari is mounting ahead of elections expected as early as next autumn.

Epidural tragedy mum speaks out

Grace Wang, who was injected with a skin-cleanser instead of an epidural, has spoken out on TV for the first time about the anaesthetist’s mistake that changed her life forever.

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Grace and her husband, Jason Zheng, were looking forward to becoming new parents, but the biggest moment of their lives turned to tragedy when a routine epidural procedure went horribly wrong.

An anaesthetist mistakenly injected chlorhexidine, a skin-cleansing fluid in place of a pain killing agent into Grace’s spine.

The 33-year-old mother suffered massive nerve damage, endured two brain surgeries and ended up paralysed from the waist down.

The joys of new motherhood turned into despair, as Grace discovered she couldn’t even hold her newborn, Alex. She still can’t physically embrace him.

“When all those nurses hold Alex, when they kiss and hug him, I feel really sad because I really hope I can also hold him just like the others do because our Alex is so cute,” she says.

Around one-third of all birthing women in Australia have an epidural but for Grace Wang, this routine practise turned into her worst nightmare.

Mandarin News Australia contacted the St George Hospital for an interview to discuss Grace Wang’s unique case but instead they responded with the following media statement.

“This is an extremely distressing case and the Hospital has … admitted fault.”

“The Department [of Health] has issued a Safety Notice to all Health Services advising of the need to review…practices, related to the handling and preparation of epidural medicine doses in both Obstetrics and in Operating Theatres.”

“The Hospital and the Local Health District are deeply sorry for what has happened to Grace and will continue to care for her and her family.”

Grace and her family are in ongoing legal negotiations with the hospital. A case has commenced for damages caused to Grace.

Her lawyer says that as far as they know, it’s the only case of its kind recorded anywhere i the world.

“They’re effectively in a medical limbo because the prognosis everyone wants a good prognosis everyone wants to know that things will resolve, but for Grace it’s the unknown,” the lawyer says.

Alex celebrated his first birthday on Sunday 26th June.

The family are trying to make a fresh start by moving into a larger residence provided by the hospital.

For Grace Wang’s full story, watch the repeat of Mandarin News Australia on SBS ONE at 6.35AM this Sunday.

A Facebook page has been set up to provide updates on Grace and her family.

Watch this story on YouTube:

Obama torn between Palestinians and Jews

America’s obstruction of a Palestinian statehood drive at the UN has left President Barack Obama facing charges he watered down his Middle East peace push to appease disgruntled Jewish voters.

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But polling data and electoral history suggests that American Jews do not make a president’s relations with Israel a litmus test for their vote and seem unlikely to desert Democrats for conservative Republicans in the 2012 election.

Still, experts say, Obama campaign aides, worried about any lost votes in what is shaping up as a close election, will be loathe to see the president spend more of his diminished political capital on a moribund peace process.

Obama’s relationship with Jewish voters — a key Democratic voting bloc — has been in the spotlight as his White House feuded with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and pressured Israel on issues like settlements.

Circumstantial evidence suggests he has paid a political price.

APPROVAL RATING

In 2008, Obama captured 78 percent of the Jewish vote and by the time of his inauguration, his approval rating with the community was 83 percent.

But his approval in the community had tumbled to just 54 percent by September, according to a recent Gallup poll.

A recent Republican victory in a fiercely Democratic district of New York where critics slammed Obama for “disparaging” Israel, left conservatives scenting an opening with Jewish voters.

“Don’t even think about throwing Israel under the bus,” said a Jewish voter in an Internet ad run by the Republican Jewish Coalition after the election.

In a Wall Street Journal opinion piece, commentator Dan Senor said Obama was “losing the Jewish Vote” because of the “most consistently one-sided diplomatic record against Israel of any American president in generations.”

And Internet news pioneer Matt Drudge splashed: “Revenge of the Jews.”

Democratic leaders argued the race, in which conservative orthodox Jewish voters were prominent did not carry national implications.

DISCONTENT WITH OBAMA

But Republican 2012 challengers sought to fan Jewish discontent with Obama: Texas governor Rick Perry accused him of appeasing Palestinians.

So when Obama said last week at the UN that the US bond with Israel “is unbreakable,” after vowing to veto the Palestinian statehood bid, some observers saw outside motivations.

“Now is the time in which foreign policy makes way for domestic policy. Palestine-out; the Jewish voters in America-in,” said a commentary in the Israeli Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper.

The White House said the veto threat was purely motivated by a belief that UN recognition will not bring a true Palestinian state, which can only be defined by negotiations with Israel, any closer.

The case that Israel policy is hurting Obama among Jews especially, is undermined by the fact that many demographic groups, not just Jews, are souring on Obama, including another key Democratic constituency, Hispanic voters.

And at 54 percent, Obama is at least 10 points more popular with Jewish voters, than he is among Americans as a whole.

TWO PER CENT

Exit polls in 2008 suggested only around two percent of voters nationwide are Jewish.

However, in vital swing states like Florida and Pennsylvania they could wield disproportionate power in hard-fought counties, so Obama aides will be wary of alienating even a small sample of voters.

“You have to neutralize as many of the possible negatives as you can,” said Daniel Levy of the New America Foundation, who argues Obama is now in a political box on Israel.

Jeremy Ben-Ami, president of J-Street, a liberal pro-Israel group, said Obama’s aides may have drawn wrong conclusions.

“The idea that Jews are somehow fleeing in terms of their votes or their approval or support from Obama because of Israel — that is simplistic.”

“Unfortunately, I think that the way in which the Obama administration is approaching policy on this issue, is affected by their belief that they do have a problem.”

ISRAEL ‘DOWN THE LIST’

A Gerstein poll for J-Street in 2010, suggested Israel was well down the list of concerns for Jewish voters, with only 7 percent naming it as their top issue, compared to 62 percent motivated by the economy.

Ben-Ami also warned Obama aides may be overly influenced by powerful pro-Israeli lobby groups that he said do not reflect the entirety of American Jewish opinion.

Netanyahu has also forged strong links with conservative Republicans, further constraining Obama’s room for maneuver.

Factbox: Whose oil does the EU buy?

The European Union uses around 1 billion barrels of oil each quarter, imported from producers in various countries and offshore around the world.

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It has now decided to implement an oil embargo on Iran.

The Middle East is only the third-largest exporter of oil to Europe, and oil from Iran constitutes the second-largest quantity from that region.

Here is a look at where Europe’s oil comes from, and which countries may step in to fill the void left by the embargo on Iranian oil

These figures from the European Commission show the total number of barrels including crude, heavy and light, imported into Europe from each country between January and March 2011.

Offshore rigs are responsible for more than 40 per cent of Europe’s oil imports, supplying just under half – 400 million barrels – of Europe’s oil per quarter. The top three suppliers are:

1. The Russian Federation (277,839,000 barrels in total)

2. Kazakhstan (59,730,000 barrels)

3. Azerbaijan (39, 682,000 barrels)

The second-highest volume of oil is imported from Africa, which provides just over 200 million barrels per quarter, mostly from:

1. Libya (85,187,000 barrels)

2. Nigeria (51,417,000 barrels)

3. Algeria (21,105,000 barrels)

Africa’s contribution comprises 21 per cent of total imports.

A further 20 per cent comes from within Europe – with almost 200 million barrels supplied by:

1.Norway (111,306,000 barrels)

2. The United Kingdom (47,687,000 barrels)

3. Other European countries

The Middle East is fourth, providing just over 130 million barrels, or 14 per cent, in the first quarter of 2011. The main suppliers are:

1. Saudi Arabia (60,109,000 barrels)

2. Iran (39,322,000 barrels)

3. Iraq (17,782,000 barrels)

Just over 2.5 per cent of Europe’s oil comes from the Americas, with Mexico and Venezuela the main suppliers.

Court defers Assange ruling

British judges on Wednesday deferred their decision on an appeal by WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange against his extradition to Sweden to face allegations of rape and sexual assault.

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The High Court in London heard two days of arguments from Assange’s lawyers and from Swedish prosecutors as the Australian sought to overturn a ruling in February that approved his extradition.

“We will hand down our judgment in the usual way,” said Judge John Thomas, one of two judges dealing with the case, referring to a written decision.

He did not say when the ruling would be given.

Assange was arrested by British police in December after Sweden requested his arrest for questioning over allegations of sexual assault and rape against two women. He denies the claims.

Lawyers for Swedish prosecutors on Wednesday rejected defence claims that a rape allegation against Assange, made by one of the women, would not count as such under English law.

Clare Montgomery accused Ben Emmerson, one of Assange’s lawyers, of “winding English law back to the 19th century” with his definition of consent.

“They (the alleged victims) are describing circumstances in which they did not freely consent without coercion,” Montgomery said.

“They were forced either by physical force or by the sense of being trapped into the position where they had no choice and therefore submitted to Mr Assange’s intentions.”

On the allegation that one of the women woke up to find Assange having sex with her without a condom, Montgomery said: “She may later have acquiesced in it… but that didn’t make the initial penetration anything other than an act of rape she had not consented to.”

“This woman had never had unprotected sex and it was a very important issue to her,” she said.

Montgomery was later challenged by judge Thomas over her arguments that the European arrest warrant used on Assange was proportionate.

Discussing whether it would be sensible for Assange to be interviewed by Swedish authorities in some way before the extradition goes ahead, Thomas said: “If you actually take sensible steps to eliminate problems in the spirit of judicial cooperation, you may find the process simpler.”

Another of Assange’s lawyers, Mark Summers, reiterated arguments that the European arrest warrant was invalid because he is only wanted for questioning and has not been charged.

“There was from the very outset of this case an easier way to proceed, a more proportionate way to proceed,” he told the court.

He said the EU’s executive Commission had examined the European arrest warrant system and issued guidance that warrants should not be issued in circumstances where there is a “less onerous” alternative.

Assange took on a new legal team after a hearing in February which abandoned the bombastic statements by his previous lawyers warning that he could be deported to the United States and incarcerated in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

The former Australian hacker has himself remained uncharacteristically silent during the latest proceedings.

He refused to comment as he left the court on Wednesday surrounded by a scrum of some 50 journalists who were firing questions at him, instead pushing his way slowly through the crowd to a waiting car.

A ripple of applause went up from a group of his supporters who had set up a small encampment outside court, some of whom were dressed in orange jumpsuits of the kind worn by Guantanamo Bay detainees.

One man yelled into a loudspeaker: “We support you. But you should wear a condom, save yourself the trouble.”

At his previous appearances Assange gave long press conferences claiming the allegations are politically motivated and linked to his whistleblower website’s releases of huge caches of leaked US government documents.

He has been living under strict bail conditions, including wearing an electronic ankle tag and a curfew, at a friend’s mansion in eastern England.

Octopuses limber up for World Cup

“We are currently conducting different skills-training exercises with the octopuses in the hope that at least one of them can forecast as Paul,” said Britta Anlauf, spokeswoman for Sea Life Germany.

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In order to ensure a level playing field, each of the eight Sea Life centres in Germany, which is host to the June 26-July 17 women’s competition, will have exactly the same equipment, which will be delivered this week.

On the day of every Germany match at 11:00 am (0900 GMT), the octopuses will be put through their paces in Berlin, Hanover, Koenigswinter, Konstanz, Munich, Speyer, Timmendorfer Strand and at Paul’s old home in Oberhausen.

The exact format though is being kept a secret, but it is likely to be along the same lines of what Paul did during last year’s World Cup, when he was credited with correctly predicting the outcome of all seven Germany matches.

Two boxes were lowered into the salty soothsayer’s tank, each containing a mussel and the flag of the two opposing teams. The box that he yanked open first was deemed his choice to be the winner.

By the end the British-born cephalopod’s performance was being carried live on rolling news channels in Germany. He cost bookmakers a fortune and even correctly predicted Spain’s victory over the Netherlands in the final.

Paul died aged nearly three in October, sparking hundreds of messages of condolence from his fan club on social networking website Facebook, whose ranks have more than tripled since his death to more than 200,000.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said all the fuss encapsulated everything that was wrong with the West.

‘Kazakh poll failed to meet democratic principles’

“Notwithstanding the government’s stated ambition to strengthen Kazakhstan’s democratic processes and to conduct elections in line with international standards, the parliamentary elections still did not meet fundamental principles of democratic elections,” the observer mission said a preliminary report about Sunday’s ballot.

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The snap election was won by President Nursultan Nazarbayev’s ruling party Nur Otan with 80.74 percent of the vote, according to initial results.

The group will be joined in parliament by the pro-business Ak Zhol (Bright Path) party with 7.46 percent of the vote and the Communist People’s Party of Kazakhstan — a largely pro-government group that won 7.2 percent.

The elections were run under new rules assuring the second-place finisher a few seats in parliament even if it won less than the seven-percent threshold.

The mission praised Kazakhstan’s plans to gradually introduce political plurality and noted that the vote was “aimed at introducing at least a second party into the parliament.”

But the mission — which involved the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly and the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, criticised the government for barring several opposition parties and leaders from the polls.

“If Kazakhstan is serious about their stated goals of increasing the number of parties in parliament, then the country should have allowed more genuine opposition parties to participate in this election,” said the mission’s special coordinator Joao Soares.

The report added that monitors also witnessed problems with how the vote was counted and did not always have access to the information they sought.

“The counting and tabulation processes were significantly lacking in transparency and respect for procedure, with cases of electoral fraud noted,” it said.

Miklos Haraszti, the head of the Election Observation Mission of the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, said: “This election took place in a tightly controlled environment, with serious restrictions on citizens'” electoral rights.

“Genuine pluralism does not need the orchestration we have seen.”

International observers had also condemned the conduct of April 2011 presidential election that saw Nazarbayev win more than 95 percent of the vote in a poll where even one of his rivals voted for the Kazakh strongman.